“Getting through the gate” has to be the first order of the day for a sales person. And when that gate is manned by the proverbial bulldog receptionist, you really have your work cut out for you. How often do you run into receptionists who think they’re Tim Howard? Often, I tell ya ... No question, with his record, Tim would make a great gatekeeper. So how would you get past him? Believe it or not, with the right marketing strategies you can turn your local “Tim” into one of the resources your sales team can use to your benefit.
#1: Remember: The Gatekeeper Holds the Key
Most gatekeepers are lowly staff. They’re receptionists, secretaries or personal assistants. On the odd occasion, they’re exec. assistants. That’s about it. They don’t get the perks their bosses get, such as tickets to the game, promo goodies or even birthday cards. And yet, they hold the key to providing access to the guy (or gal) you really want to see. So pay attention.
Give the gatekeeper the same—or similar—treatment you give the boss:
- Find out when their birthday is
- Add them to the holiday gift list
- Take them out for coffee and get to know them
- Treat them like the executive
- Ask their opinion
In other words, make friends with them. The next time it’s between you and your competition, guess who’s going to get the appointment?
#2: Practice “Jiu-Jitsu” Email
If you can’t get the gatekeeper into your corner, you have to find a way around him. Here’s where technology can be your best friend. Try using what savvy salespeople call “jiu-jitsu email” – messages that are designed to out-maneuver the gatekeeper. It’s easy enough to get the personal email address of your target, simply by looking at the format of the gatekeeper’s email and knowing the name of the target.
Craft an email message, not one that attempts to sell but one that highlights a challenge your target is experiencing. Send it to the gatekeeper and copy the exec. Start a conversation with the gatekeeper about how you could help. Not only will this make the goalie feel important, it will give the exec. a break because he won’t feel like a target. At some point, he’ll get intrigued enough to get in on the action.
#3: Get up Close and Personal
In these days of email, personal handwritten notes and letters leap out and yell “important” more than anything else will. You might not have the time to do this for every prospect, but one that has a million-dollar contract to award could just be worth the effort, right? It’s not only effective for your target customer, but for the gatekeeper too. How often do you think the goalie gets a “thank you” from someone trying to get past him? Get him to lower those defenses just a tad by treating him like he matters ... which he does.
#4: Stay Current on What’s Happening
Whether you’re dealing with your target themselves or their version of Tim Howard, being out of date isn’t going to help you. Find ways to keep up with news and events in the company. For example, if either party moves on and is replaced by someone else, you need to be first in there with a “welcome” or “congratulations.” It’s a great way to make meaningful, non-sales related contact. Just offer your help with anything they need and lay the foundations for a future relationship. People move on, companies restructure, divisions die. It happens. Don’t let it take your hard work with it.
#5: Know When to Fold – and Do It with Grace
Sometimes, there’s just no way to get past the gatekeeper. The Tim Howards of the world are simply too good, a fact that was all too obvious during the recent US-Belgium world cup game. And when that happens, accept being redirected to another target. Maintain your good relationship with the goalie. Show you know when to fold. Ask them to put their money where their mouth is and set up your first appointment with the alternative target exec, or at least provide an official introduction. Don’t just let them fob you off. If you’ve done your homework correctly from the start and built up a relationship with the gatekeeper, he or she will find it difficult to push you aside without some sort of compromise.
#6: Be Prepared
Like a good scout, make sure when the day comes that you get the audience you’re after, you’re ready to make it happen. Understand that in spite of all the fancy footwork you’ve done you might only get five minutes, so be prepared to make them count:
- Speak from a business perspective, not a sales pitch
- Don’t let yourself get caught up in the features of the product
- Stick to the benefits and how you can help them
- Reference your discussions with the gatekeeper, and show you’ve taken note of what he or she says
Treating the gatekeeper with respect is the way to unlocking the door and closing customers. Remember, they’re human too, and often their primary task is to screen the exec from unwanted, snake-oil salespeople. In the words of Tim Howard: "That's my job. That's what I do." He’d make a great gatekeeper. Be glad you don’t have to get past him.